Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

In Defense of Food book discussion (Part III)

In Defense of FoodThis week's book club post is the fifth installment of the In Defense of Food discussion posts. This week's post wraps up the longest book club for the shortest book ever!

Chapter 1. Escape from the Western Diet - This chapter recaps what has been covered in the earlier sections of the book and sets up what we are to read in the remaining chapters. The main concept is reiterated: People eating a Western diet are prone to a complex of chronic diseases that seldom strike people eating more traditional diets. No matter what infighting occurs between scientists, the take home message is to stop eating a Western diet.

How do we go about doing this? Pollan isn't expecting us to truly go back to a "traditional" diet because how can you define traditional for each person? The genetic makeup of each individual and their ability to process certain foods relies tremendously on the environment in which their ancestors adapted to the local foodsheds.

So, what is he recommending? Well, to start off, choose whole foods. But how can we determine if that whole food is really unadulterated? Is that CAFO beef really a whole food? What about vegetables grown in nutrient depleted soil under a host of chemical pesticides and petroleum fertilizers? Is that a whole food?

Chapter 2. Eat Food: Food Defined - What the heck should we be eating then? Here are some rules of thumb:

Don't eat anything your great-grandma wouldn't recognize. Squeeze yogurts, cheese food products, Twinkies, non-dairy creamers - all of these can be readily identified as something not "whole".

Avoid foods containing unfamiliar or unpronounceable ingredients or high fructose corn syrup. This doesn't mean so much that the ingredients are inherently harmful, but they are good indicators of food quality.

Avoid food products that make health claims. This is a big neon sign screaming "processed". Generally, only big food companies have the wherewithal to secure FDA-approved health claims for their products.

Shop the peripheries of the supermarket. You know what's lurking in the middle - packaged, boxed, processed foods. Stick to the outside where produce, dairy, meats and bulk items live.

Get out of the supermarket if you can. Farmers markets generally don't sell highly processed foods, neither do farm stands or U-pick farms. Shop from your garden and you're assured of getting whole foods.

Do you focus on buying mostly whole foods or are you more concerned with buying healthy or organic even if it's processed (like cereals, crackers, soups, etc.)? There are a number of highly processed foods that are marketed as "healthy" - do you think they are? Do you really need to eat whole foods or are products found in the natural foods section okay?

Chapter 3. Mostly Plants: What to Eat - Okay, so we're supposed to eat whole foods. Any more words of wisdom?

Eat mostly plants, especially leaves. Plants are chock full of nutrients, vitamins, fiber and antioxidants all delivered in a format that our bodies are evolved to uptake most effectively. Antioxidants help us get rid of toxins and the rest are necessary for health and function. Enriched foods just don't get processed the same way and plants supply us with these necessities.

You are what what you eat eats too. WTF? In other words, the diet of the animals we eat has a bearing on the nutritional quality, and healthfulness, of the food itself. The same thing can be said for plant based foods - poor soils make for nutritionally poor plants.

If you have the space, buy a freezer. If you can buy foods at the height of the season and store them for year-round consumption, you are ensuring that you are getting the most nutrition from your foods. Eating those anemic tomatoes in February just doesn't cut it.

Eat like an omnivore. If you eat a wide and varied diet, you are more likely to get the full range of nutrients that these foods supply.

Eat well-grown food from healthy soils. Again, soils rich in organic matter produce more nutritious food: higher levels of anti-oxidants, flavonoids, vitamins, etc.

Have a glass of wine with dinner. I love Michael Pollan.

Chapter 4. Not Too Much: How to Eat - First of all, focus on quality over quantity. Shake off the idea of supersizing your meals or trying to maximize the food you get for your dollar. Instead, spend more money on less. You'll find the quality of the food and it's improved taste will satisfy you with less.

Second, eat meals. No more eating in the car, at your desk, in front of the TV or computer, standing at the sink or sitting on the toilet or wherever you grab your meals. Sit down at the table for crying out loud and enjoy your food. Preferably with family and friends.

Thirdly, eat slowly and listen to your belly. Don't hoark down your food so fast that your brain doesn't recognize that you ate so much that you have to unbutton your pants. Or, worse yet, you're so full that you can't stand up and walk upright without discomfort. It takes your brain about twenty minutes to catch up with your gut, so give them time to communicate with each other.

Lastly, become a cook and grow a garden. Doing both gives you an appreciation between the plants and the soil and between the ingredients and those you are feeding.

How many meals do you eat at home? How many with your family? Are you so overly busy that you don't have time to cook or eat with others?

Well, that concludes the In Defense of Food book club posts. How has reading this book changed the way you think about food and eating?


Burbanmom said...

This book and OD both forced me to take a long hard look at what I feed my family. Since reading them I have:

1. Cut out factory farm meats and buy only local, pasture-raised beef and pork products. I'm currently sourcing out local chicken and turkey as well.

2. I now buy local, free-range eggs (ummm, I guess the chickens that lay the eggs are free-range, not the eggs themselves - those are held captive in cartons).

3. I serve more fruits and veggies and try to make the meat be a side dish rather than a main dish.

4. I bake more of my own bread.

5. I've given up mixes - pancakes, biscuits, cakes, muffins brownies... it's all made from scratch now.

6. I buy whatever produce is in season and freeze it as soon as I get home, so that I will have plent on hand.

7. I buy organic whenever possible.

8. I try to avoid HFCS like the plague and read labels more closely. I try to stick to the "no more than five ingredients" rule, but that one's tough to follow sometimes.

9. I've started my own vegetable garden.

Our family still consumes some favorite processed foods like crackers (kids) and cold cereal (hubby), but for the most part, we are eating much healthier than we were before.

hmd said...

I loved this book! Between IDF and OD, Michael Pollen really inspired me. I've been on a local eating experiment for 6 months, but it was only for veggies and eggs. This book inspired me to expand the experiment even further. Like bubanmom, I am now making my own bread (which has shocked my friends and family). I also found a local dairy where I'm getting local raw milk and cheese. And I've gone to only local fruit though I'm going a bit crazy waiting for those sweet little goodies to hit the market (I've been eating grapefruit for a month with only a short break when my dad showed up with some blueberries and watermelon from here in Texas.)

I have always eaten kinda "healthy", but what reading these books and changing the way I eat has done for me is change my relationship with food. Food has always been the enemy. Me against the food. I love it but "that will go straight to my hips!" Now my favorite time of the week is the farmers market trip to talk with the farmers, get my weekly supply and figure out what wonderful things I can make with it. It's become a joy in my life. Who'd have thought food could bring so much happiness?

Thanks for doing these book clubs! I love reading all the discussions that ensue!

Deb G said...

After reading the statement to only eat what your grandmother would recognize, I went to my fridge and cupboards and took a look. I passed the test!

I love to garden and cook so I've always leaned towards whole foods. This book reassured me that I'm doing the right thing. Local is important to me too, now more than ever. Actually, buying local pretty much helps you meet all the other goals. I can even buy local wine at the farmer's market. :)

One thing I've cut way back on since reading Pollan's book is chicken. I can get local chicken but I'm not so sure of the source.

What I need to give up still is cookies and scones from coffee shops. And if I make them at home instead of buying, to learn a little more self control.

The issue I've been debating after reading the book is whether it would be good to replace my fridge/freezer(which is huge for the needs of this household!) with a small fridge and a small chest freezer. Last year I froze tomatoes-works great! If the amount of raspberry canes in my garden are any indication, I'm going to have tons of raspberries. I could easily fill a small freezer. I would like to stock up on local beef/pork that is free range and be able to have it for the months it's not available at the farmer's market. The trade off is the energy usage. I could can and dry and give up meat for a few months of the year and consider unplugging the refrigerator. I go back and forth on this. And yes, when I voted for what appliance would be hardest to give up-it was the freezer/fridge. I like milk in my coffee.

Green Bean said...

I had already moved toward all local produce after Plenty and was working on all local, sustainably and humanely raised animal products after Omnivore's Dilemma and Animal Vegetable Miracle. In a way, this book was less pivitol to me than the others.

However, it did open my eyes to the remaining processed food that we consume. I love the idea of rules: is it something your great grandmother would recognize as food? 5 ingredients or less? does it contain HFCS? eat at a table (okay, the last one is hard for me as he specified that a desk is not a table!). Those rules I do remember and bring with me.

I bake our bread or we buy it from a small local bakery. I make our own yogurt - even our own "junk food." We don't use mixes, eat homemade granola, jam and such. I do feel more wholesome this way, more in tune and just better.

maria said...

my husband is a little on the fence about getting a freezer, because of the amount it would add to our electric bill (of course, keeping it mostly full would make it more efficient). i'm wondering which uses more energy: freezing your produce from the summer or buying frozen produce that has traveled great distances. i'm guessing the latter?

i have always tried not to eat junk, and reading michael pollan's various NYT articles (some of which made their way into IDF) helped shape my habits some, but reading this book was probably the nail in the coffin in terms of what i pretty much will not eat anymore.

i used to think a little fast food now and then was okay. now i really don't feel like it's worth it at all, no matter how cheap it is or how much of a hurry i'm in. if there's a chance i'm going to get stuck in the car with a hungry kid, i try to remember to pack a snack from home, where i know what goes into almost everything.

we've tried making or finding local or bulk sources for just about every staple item in the house (we had a bit of a disaster with yogurt recently, though). our one vice is tortilla chips, which, if they're half-decent, only have three ingredients anyway, but as soon as i get a chance i'm going to see if i can make those too.

the "food your great-grandmother would recognize" advice should be taken with the knowledge that it really should be "someone's great-grandmother"--my great-grandparents wouldn't have known tempeh or tamales from a hole in the ground, but someone's great-grandparents would.

i eat most of my meals at home, although i admit that sometimes breakfast or lunch is in front of the ol' computer. i have noticed that it puts me in a much better mood when i eat lunch in the dining room, even just by myself, watching the birds outside. when my stepdaughter is here, we eat every meal together at the table, on something resembling a schedule. when she's not we kind of revert to being 20somethings with odd lifestyles and we often don't have dinner until 8 PM.

sometimes i REALLY don't feel like cooking dinner. but one of us usually does it anyway, even if it ends up being something really half-assed and uninspired. we've made a conscious effort to incorporate more leaves into our diet, and salad is always pretty easy to throw together. i've gotten a little better about remembering stuff like soaking beans or defrosting meats ahead of time if i want to use them.

finally, i can credit michael pollan with sealing my conviction to garden and grow much of our food (and i haven't even read second nature). his most recent article in the times magazine really says it all.

Theresa said...

I haven't read the Omnivore's Dilemma or In Defense of Food, but it's becoming quite apparent that I need to! I have made some good changes though, especially after reading The 100 Mile Diet (Plenty, in the US). I make a lot more home-cooked meals and bread, and have started growing my own vegetables. We've joined a CSA this year and go to farmer's markets whenever we can. I've connected with the local apiary and now I can get honey that is collected and processed within a few kms of my house. My husband, who used to be very finicky about what he would and would not eat, is on the bandwagon and now says he will eat whatever is good for him, even kale! I'm a vegetarian and he's almost one, so we're getting there. And this year we're definitely getting a small deep freeze, because I know I'm not going to be able to use up all of the CSA produce we get this summer.

I definitely have to keep my eye out for this book at my favorite used bookstore.

Leila said...

Regarding purchasing a freezer, it is well worth the expense if it allows you to purchase a bulk supply of locally grown meat at a considerably lower price (i.e. a quarter of a steer). But get the chest kind and not the upright kind. Upright freezers spill cold air out every time you open the door. You can usually find used ones in the classifieds.

Paula Hewitt said...

I'll leave this comment to our seven year old (reported back to me), when asked if i was a good cook, he said 'yeah , if you like salad. its all we ever have.... salad, salad, salad, vegetables, vegetables, salad, salad, salad.'
I focus more on whole foods, local and home cooked rather than organic. we cant afford organic, i i think whole non-orgainc better than processed/ much travelled organic

hmd said...

Re: buying the Michael Pollen books and in light of Buy-Nothing-Month, don't forget your local library. That's where I got my copies. One was in the stacks and the other I had to order from interlibrary loan. And of course, it's free. I love free!

Anonymous said...

I try to focus on whole foods, local, and organic if possible (though a lot of our little local farmers are non-certified organic - the certification is expensitve). When we do buy processed foods, I try to go organic - not for our health but for the farmworkers and processor's health. We eat a lot of dried fruit, and storebought bread, crackers, and cereal.

I have to ask my boyfriend to sit at the table with us - he will start out in the kitchen with a plate of food and inhale it on the way to the table, and wonder why we have problems keeping our toddler in his chair. Also, he doesn't get home from work until 7 or 8 pm most nights, so we eat dinner twice - once me & kid, and then later all of us (and often some friends.)

The thing that has made this *way* more possible this winter is the pressure cooker - I usually cook tomorrow's dinner while I'm cleaning up from today's (while bf puts our son to bed) and then when me & the kid get home at 5:30 or 6 there's food ready that I cooked the night before.

But the absolute best tool I've found for home cooking is the pressure cooker.

I have completely failed with the local thing since my son started solid foods, though. We eat a lot of bananas, and the local apples (dried and fresh) ran out in the beginning of February, so we're eating apples from Washington State.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone catch the part in the book about how whole milk is actually better for you than low fat? He said that low fat milk is fortified with powdered milk which has a bad type of cholesteral in it. I've started to buy whole milk now, but have had a bit of a hard time with this after having it drilled into me for years that you should always buy lowfat. Has anyone else thought about that point?

After reading OD and Animal Vegetable Miracle, and the way we ate already, this was a lot of information that I sort of already knew, but he just hammered the point home. It's certainly made me add many more greens to our diet and as I mentioned before, I've switched to local, organic whole milk.

Gypsy said...

What a great book. I have been meaning to read this, and have now ordered it (from the library of course, no flagrant shopping for me!).

Buying local food, eating more plants, and buying organic meats, supporting farmers markets - these are all things I do, inspired in part by listening to the writer of this book on the radio.

I love the 5 ingredients or less, and the 'would your grandma recognise it' rules ... it sounds like such a sensible, practical approach to what can be a very contentious issue.